Dolphin researcher Louis Herman worked with Akeakamai at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory in 2000. Akeakamai died in November; a second dolphin, Phoenix, died last month; and now the facility's last dolphin, Hiapo, has died.

Last dolphin dies
at marine laboratory

A UH official says
the bottlenose dolphin's
death was a surprise

The last of the bottlenose dolphins at Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory has died, only months after the facility lost two others to cancer.

Hiapo, a 20-year-old male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was found dead early Tuesday by a staff member at the University of Hawaii facility.

A necropsy reported no obvious cause of death, and more tests of the animal are scheduled.

"This was a total surprise," said university spokesman Jim Manke, adding that the dolphin had been given a "clean bill of health" as late as last Thursday.

Louis Herman, president and director of the Dolphin Institute -- the laboratory's nonprofit research arm -- said in January that Hiapo was "in fine health."

He also said that despite the deaths of Hiapo's pool mates, the dolphin was "very vigorous" and "very sociable."

Hiapo's death comes just one month after the center lost Phoenix, a 27-year-old bottlenose dolphin. Akeakamai, a bottlenose dolphin of the same age, died in November.

Both animals died of cancer that had spread from an oral tumor.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have a life span of 35 years or more. The institute's female dolphins were brought to the Kewalo laboratory in 1979 from the Gulf of Mexico when they were a little under 2 years old.

The facility's fourth dolphin, Elele, died in 2000 of an acute abdominal infection.

Animal rights activists are calling the recent deaths a sad end to a facility that they have been concerned about -- and speaking out against -- for some time.

"For animals to epitomize freedom and beauty in the wild, it was the saddest thing to see them swimming around and around in those awful tanks," said Cathy Goeggel, president of Animal Rights Hawaii.

"I'm always saddened at the death of an animal, but at least Hiapo is free now. ... We just want Kewalo to be a thing of the past. We want the tanks to be dismembered."

Goeggel, along with researcher Ken LeVasseur, one of two men convicted of first-degree theft in 1977 for releasing two dolphins from the Kewalo laboratory, have been pushing for the animals' release for years.

"Captivity kills," LeVasseur said yesterday after hearing of Hiapo's death.

Herman, an acclaimed researcher, founded the Dolphin Institute more than 30 years ago. It has been home to a number of groundbreaking studies on dolphin intelligence, behavior, communication and sensory abilities.

After the deaths of Phoenix and Akeakamai, Herman told the Star-Bulletin that the laboratory would continue its marine mammal research programs by collaborating with other institutes.

Meanwhile, the institute's Web site says the "Dolphin Cognition and Communication" participant program has been suspended as of Feb. 1 "due to temporary new priorities."

The program allowed students and others to "receive instruction and information about our philosophy of dolphin care, teaching and training" by feeding the animals and watching their trainers.

Officials with the institute, including Herman, declined to comment yesterday. Manke could not say what would happen to the facility with no dolphins to use as research subjects, and referred such inquiries to Herman.

The institute's research has been funded in the past by grants from a number of government agencies and private foundations, including the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service and Earthwatch.


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